The expense allowances available to cathaoirleachs and leas cathaoirleachs (chair/mayor and deputy chair/mayor) of local councils are interesting to examine. Or at least would be if we could see them all in the one dataset.
Under the provisions of Section 143 the Local Government Act 2001 a local authority may pay an allowance to its chair and deputy chair for “reasonable” expenses. This means councillors vote on how much the council chair (also a councillor) gets for expenses, which are unvouched in the vast majority of cases and often untaxed. Of course that also means the allowances vary from one council to another.
Last week one New Ross Labour councillor, Bobby Dunphy, made a good case for changing this system. He proposed that mayoral expenses be reimbursed instead of awarded as a fixed amount. He told the News Ross Standard [paywalled link]…
All I was proposing was a system that would give greater openness and transparency. The only reason for opposing that would be that you did not want openness and transparency. For example, while the €8,000 is intended to cover anticipated expenses, in reality any expenses incurred can be and are claimed separately. The €8,000 is, in effect pocketed as a tax free salary. There is no scrutiny, no value for money analysis… Because it is public money we Councillors have a duty to oversee the proper disbursement of this money
It’s perhaps insightful to note that Dunbar couldn’t get another elected member to second his proposal. This meant he couldn’t speak from the floor to argue why such a change would be beneficial to the people of New Ross. According to the council website there is another Labour member on the council.
Back in August last year I began looking for information on these allowances. This being Ireland, there is no public database containing information for allowances per council. When I contacted the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government I was told that if I was to get information for each council I’d have to contact each one individually. All 120 or so of them. I started attempting to collate the list in September with plans in mind to pitch the resultant story to some, or several, paying media. These types of things will usually have a few angles that I could have pitched to various regional papers, so I thought it was going to be worthwhile. That didn’t really work out for me.
To begin with the list of email addresses for each council administrator on the department’s website proved to be hopelessly out of date. Around half of them bounced back immediately; ‘no such email address exists’. Three weeks later half of those which hadn’t bounced back hadn’t responded. I began calling. That was a nightmare because it usually takes two calls per council to get onto the right person. Over two months I made calls between shifts, however since January I’ve been too busy to continue the process. I simply don’t have the time to continue contacting these authorities now. Frustrated, I’m publishing what I’ve got, maybe others can add to my results. The spreadsheet below has data for about half the authorities.
To get a comparable figure for each council I’ve added in population data from the most recent census for the areas for which such information is available. In dividing the mayor’s allowance by the census’s population data we get a figure for euro per head of population. A number of out-liers appeared from this calculation, most being areas with a small population, which makes sense as the smaller population centres should have a higher such figure.
It’s interesting to observe that Cork City Council and Limerick City Council both large population figures, both rank high on that column. It’s also notable that two of the top three councils with the largest mayor’s allowance are Cork’s. The mayor of Cork City gets the highest allowance in country, more than €90,000, significantly higher than the second figure, the Lord Mayor of Dublin’s €69,000.
In January I asked the Cork deputy mayor why that was so. She told me it was because Dublin’s mayor gets a house, Cork’s doesn’t. Make of that what you will… €21,000 a year in rent in Cork?
Anyway, I sure it is expensive to run a People’s Republic.
Last observation; if you take out the cities and small populations (less than 25,000), the largest per-head figures are all in the midlands. The first reason springing to mind for that would be “it costs more in expenses to be mayor of a midlands area as the population centres are dispersed”. That doesn’t stack up though, Kerry, Galway County and Cork County are all well down the list on euro-per-head, yet their mayors would have to cover a similar geographical area. Strange then that the level appears – at least from the 50 percent sample size – that it could be related to the answer to the question; “what is the neighbour getting?”
Other observations and additional information gratefully accepted in the comments. Is your council covered? Fancy calling them?